The Conservative proposal to scrap Train to Gain should the party come into power next year has divided the HR profession.
Shadow skills minister John Hayes told Personnel Today that if his party was elected, he would end the government’s flagship skills brokerage service and transfer all of its £1bn budget to other skills projects, with a strong emphasis on apprenticeships and higher-level skills.
He said the service was a “massive dead weight cost” which focused too heavily on basic skills.
Train to Gain, introduced in 2006, has so far helped employers fund 560,000 employees to gain full Level 2 qualifications, the equivalent of five GCSEs, and more than 72,000 full Level 3 qualifications at A-level standard.
Several HR chiefs were concerned about the Tory plan to scrap the service. Stephen Lenton, HR director at social care provider Heritage Care, told Personnel Today: “This is the wrong move, particularly at the current time of recession. We have found Train to Gain monies very useful in topping up our internally run NVQ programme.”
Donna Miller, HR director at Enterprise Rent-a-car, agreed scrapping the funding for higher-level skills would damage the UK’s ability to compete globally. “Train to Gain does focus on entry-level skills, but to be fair, I think that’s where the emphasis needs to be.”
Should Train to Gain be scrapped?
Nigel Fletcher, education and skills adviser at the EEF, said: “Train to Gain has its merits but has concentrated on Level 2 skills. Manufacturers are looking for much higher-level skills, and if the funding is re-directed at this area then it will be welcome by industry. However, any re-directing of funds must not be used as a back door excuse to reduce the overall levels available.”
Richard Wainer, head of education and policy at the CBI, said: “We can’t take all money away from basic skills. There are a number of people coming out of school with low numeracy or literacy skills, and employers need support. But, those are not the skills which will help the UK compete and become more productive. We need to re-focus funding for higher-level skills.”
The 2007 Leitch Review of Skills urged employers to sign a Skills Pledge to train staff to Level 2, after it was revealed that five million adults could not read or write properly, and 17 million adults had difficulty with numbers.
Sonia Sharples, head of HR at budget store Poundland, said Train to Gain helped narrow the skills gap. “We use Train to Gain funding to deliver NVQs into the business. This move could mean a reduction in the level of training provided.”
However, other employers were more convinced of the need to abandon Train to Gain and re-focus funding into higher-level skills.
Keith Luxon, HR director at Veolia Water, said: “While it is laudable to get everyone up to Level 2 qualifications, the future will require a workforce with far higher level of skills that will make the UK more competitive.”
Construction firm Aggregate Industries HR director Steve Tagg said: “What businesses require now is the funding to be made available for training at higher levels. In particular we would like to see funding aimed at supervisory and management level, so we can improve the competence of our management teams.”